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Terrorism: Domestic Extremism

Volume 782: debated on Wednesday 26 April 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to refine the definition of domestic extremism, in order to enable the police to focus on those involved in terrorism and serious crime.

My Lords, the definition of domestic extremism used by the police is not statutory. Questions about the police definition and their work on domestic extremism are matters for the police.

I thank the Minister for that evasive Answer. Quite honestly, of course it is a matter for the Home Office whether the police misuse their time. There is now a huge amount of incontrovertible evidence showing that the police watch peaceful, non-violent environmental campaigners. They are utterly wasting their time and not concentrating on people who can actually cause terrorism—terrorism, not tourism—in this country or commit violent crime. Will the Home Office take its responsibilities seriously about preventing such crime and make sure that the police follow some reasonable guidelines on what a domestic extremist is?

My Lords, I do not agree with the point on the police misusing their time. On whether the Answer was misleading, the Question read:

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to refine the definition of domestic extremism”.

It is not our definition.

My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register. I appreciate that we are towards the end of this parliamentary Session so the opportunity to do something about what was in the last Queen’s speech is diminishing, but in the last Queen’s speech the Government promised a Bill to look at preventing extremism. I understand that that has been festering in the long grass ever since because of the difficulty in defining extremism. Will it carry on festering in the long grass or are the Government planning, if they manage to be re-elected, to bring forward proposals that will define extremism and that might then define whether the noble Baroness is an extremist? Quite a number of us might be deemed by other colleagues in your Lordships’ House to be extremists. How will the Government address that question, as they told us in the Queen’s speech they would?

My Lords, clearly events have overtaken us. Tomorrow we will prorogue and this will be in the hands of the next Government—it might be a Labour one—to decide whether to bring forward such legislation. Yes, at the time of the last Queen’s speech that was our intention.

My Lords, I emphasise the concern over definitions. In the 1980s, when Sikhs were persecuted throughout India, when they were blamed and called terrorists and extremists, I was asked by the BBC whether I was a moderate or an extremist. I replied, “I am extremely moderate”. Such words have no meaning. We must get beyond these smear definitions and look to what actually concerns us.

As someone who is extremely moderate as well, I do not disagree with the noble Lord. The point I was making in my Answer to the Question is that this definition was made by the police.

My Lords, last week the Minister for Prisons said:

“Any form of extremism must be defeated wherever it is found”.

Can the Minister remind us of the Government’s definition of extremism, as used by that Minister last week? Does it include Jehovah’s Witnesses?

My Lords, a Jehovah’s Witness may or may not be an extremist depending on their activity. Extremists seek to justify behaviour that contradicts and undermines our shared values. If that is left unchallenged, those values that bind our society together start to fall apart: women’s rights are eroded, intolerance and bigotry become normalised, minorities are targeted and communities become separated from the mainstream. That sort of behaviour cannot go uncontested.

My Lords, does the Minister recall the recent report from the National Police Chiefs’ Council, which found that less than 10% of tip-offs about potential terrorists came from within our Muslim communities? Does that not suggest that our peaceful Muslim friends may not be doing enough to expose and stand up against their violent co-religionists? If so, what can the Government do to help them?

My Lords, I think such blanket presumptions are unhelpful at this stage. The vast majority of Muslims in this country share our values and our aspirations as parents and members of society. Prevent, the programme that this and previous Governments have run, has helped support people and protect them from those who would wish to poison their minds.

The Government announced at the beginning of this month that a 100-strong task force of counterterrorism experts was to be established the following week by the Home Office and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service to examine intelligence from around the country to assess the danger posed by radicalisation behind bars, with the new unit being,

“the nerve centre for all counter-terrorism and counter-extremist work across the prison estate and probation service”.

Where have the 100 members of the new counter- terrorism task force come from, and which areas of work within which departments or organisations are now currently operating with fewer staff as a result of the creation of this new task force of counterterrorism experts?

That is a question on which I am going to have to get back to the noble Lord. I simply do not know, and I am not going to pretend that I know, the detailed answer to the question, so I will have to get back to him.